I spent months procrastinating my research about procrastination. I sat down to write and looked at the number of things to read and thought, I’m going to make a coffee, but then passing by the kitchen I realized that I had no more bread. So I went out to buy bread. But on the way, I thought about having a beer at the gas station near my house, because after all, I deserved it after those piles and piles of pages. Then I took my supper and decided to click on all green notifications on WhatsApp, why that little thing annoys you, right? When I realized it had been two hours and I hadn’t read any pages that day.
Researching about procrastination on Youtube I concluded one thing: 99% of everything here is not working for me, and probably not for you either. Psychology is a serious matter, and nowadays everyone decides to give psychology tips. Everyone is a productivity guru, a specialist inhabits, an expert in self-development.
“5 tips to be productive, 38 ways not to procrastinate, 20 ways to make a to-do list.”
So, after scanning the sites, “tips” blogs, and YouTube, my library, I realized one thing: a lot of all the material about procrastination on the internet only serves to procrastinate while you watch or read. (the paradox of procrastination)
They are very shallow, very vague advice, and almost everyone says the same thing, but in different ways. The great tips that always appear include: making a list of tasks, writing our goals, visualizing goals imaginary, telling someone about our plans so that the person covers us for action. Anyway, you must have heard about all these ways.
But what you should never have realized, is that many books and videos are only used for marketing to those who produced them. They are not produced based on research and with the real intention of informing you and solving your problem. Most videos are meant to be seen, that’s all. And serious books are increasingly rare. So stay tuned before buying a book on “Personal development”. Research the book and see if it is based on research or just the opinion or experience of the author. And when you find a good author, consume everything that this guy has produced.
Since I didn’t have any serious books on procrastination, and I didn’t want to wait for an imported book to arrive at my house, I went looking for it elsewhere. An extremely accessible place, where less than 1% of people search, an obscure, unknown, lonely, and almost abandoned place. Google Scholar.
So I understood why most authors did not put research in their self-help books. It’s a lot of research! For every word you type, a sea of reading possibilities appears. And I printed some of those pages.
Telling a chronic procrastinator that he should make to-do lists, set priorities, try to avoid distractions, and be more organized is like saying to a depressive “Oh man, get out of this situation”. The person in depression doesn’t stay in bed because he wants to, he can’t have the motivation any, and then you come to tell him to have the motivation?
Likewise, the procrastinator’s problem is making choices, managing time, managing emotions, and impulsiveness, so you can’t write a simple one-page article or make a 5-minute video suggesting that he “ just do what you have to do “. He already knows that. Everyone knows what they should be doing. These simplistic tips are, trying to sell the problem as a solution, is simply useless.
Sending rational messages to solve emotional problems is the same as expecting a philosophical conversation from a dog. If you have a dog, you don’t expect that by telling him not to poop in your room he will obey and do where you have determined. You have to train him. In the same way, it works for you, and these complex issues are determined by multiple factors, and that has to do with the emotional firing.
Procrastination has cognitive, emotional, environmental, genetic, cultural elements. These are not easy tricks videos that will solve such a complex problem. For some people, it may even help, but in the vast majority of times, it enters through one ear and leaves through the other.
What role does the brain play in procrastination? Do impulsiveness and perfectionism have anything to do with procrastinating behavior? Can this be inherited? Do animals also procrastinate? And what are the differences between procrastination here and in oriental culture? Does culture influence how we procrastinate?
I had a patient once, a chronic procrastinator. This woman had a chaotic mind. She would do things like moving her nails for two hours every day, gnaw on the nail polish and paint again, or spend hours in front of the mirror poking her face. She did everything, except what she needed to do. If the floor was dirty, she swept, if the sink was dirty, she cleaned it, since it was just to brush her teeth and leave. She was late every day for any situation, with delays of an hour or more. It was a bizarre level of procrastination.
I have been reading all these books on self-development for many years. And one thing I noticed is that for those who are ill, as I was once, most of those things that are said out there don’t help. I stayed behind the scenes for years, studying. Then I started working at a hospital and started a Podcast. And then I was sure: our problems are much more complex than the gurus usually make it seem. Our crises are more profound than the catchphrases that coaches usually propagate. And not to mention the quantum galley. I can do excellent material on procrastination, which the person will love to see, like, and comment on, and above all, will procrastinate the things they have to do by watching my video. But fundamentally she wouldn’t stop procrastinating if I gave her a simple empty tip like “make a to-do list and follow priorities”.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination did not arise today. There are reports by the poet Hesiod in 800 BC warning not to leave tomorrow’s work until the day after tomorrow. Cicero, one of the greatest writers in ancient Rome, called her “odious” in her writings.
In general terms it means the fact of postponing something important, that one wants to do, or that needs to be done, to do other less important things or to do nothing. So this is procrastinating. But this is the basics. Procrastination has been treated with little sophistication. It is not just behavior to avoid unpleasant things. Most of us procrastinate on pleasant things. Mihaly Chiksentmihaly’s research says that the person usually goes into Flow (high-motivation internal state) after a big internal fight. But the Flow low is usually obtained with something we like. So, my friends make a 5-minute video about procrastination? How does the procrastinator know about this?
Some people procrastinate a little (the vast majority of us) and some people procrastinate pathologically. The form of procrastination and the strategies that people normally use to deal with it or to deny that it exists depends on the culture of the region. Western and non-Western students, for example, procrastinate for different reasons. Sonja Dekker and Ronald Fischer (2008) did a meta-analysis in thirteen different societies that showed that students from Western cultures tend to be more motivated by the “domain approach orientation”, that is, they want to seem expert in what they do. Orientals, on the other hand, prefer to focus on the positive image of their abilities. It is as if we seek to look good for society, and they want to feel good about themselves. Another difference is that Western cultures seek more individualistic goals, whereas Eastern cultures are more focused on collectivist goals and targets.
And my patient was among the 20% of people who suffer from chronic and pathological forms of procrastination. Students have high rates of procrastination according to studies, 60%, 70%, and it goes up …
In the case of my patient, they did not solve the empty tips of task lists, because she already made gigantic lists, with 20 items, including things like showering, brushing your teeth, drinking coffee, drinking a few glasses of water, putting on your clothes.
She read this in a book that promised to end her procrastination, which certainly had a name like “stop procrastination, win procrastination” or anything along those lines. I told her to write down small tasks for the day and go over them so that she could see that she did a lot of things on the day. And what was the author’s assumption? That she was going to be motivated by seeing how many things she did that day. But who is motivated knowing that she managed to comb her hair or get out of bed? It’s one thing for you to be effective, it’s another to be efficient, and it’s another to just stay on the move.
This author wrote a book on procrastination based on YOUR experience. Perhaps he, for whatever reason, was motivated by his tiny to-do list. He did not run any empirical study, nor did he even research the studies that had already been published and available. The strategy worked for him, for his personality, temperament, and context.
These activities for my patient were another problem, in addition to what she already had. This is what most poorly written self-help books do: in addition to 1 — not solving the problem, 2 — they make you feel like an imbecile. “After all, it’s so simple and easy, why I just can’t? “ What most of these books and materials do is simplistically treat a complex subject and blame something that is often biological, cultural, evolutionary or psychiatric on the person’s back. Saying things like “You have the life you deserve”. How about I start saying that to the people at the hospital I work for? They’re going to be extremely motivated, aren’t they?
To understand procrastination, we first have to look at our brains. Some actions and mechanisms of the brain begin in the most primitive parts of the organ. An example of this is impulses and emotions. The reasons are evolutionary: Imagine you are in the savanna. You spot a dangerous animal and begin to ponder whether or not to run. If you do that, you probably die, and if you die your genes are not passed on. So certain parts of the brain play their part regardless of reason, planning. But there is the other part of the brain, which we call the prefrontal cortex. This part, in turn, is associated with planning, impulse control, and behavioral restraint. This means that if you feel like cursing your boss, who makes you think about the consequences of this action is the prefrontal cortex.
Research on the physiological causes of procrastination has observed the role of the prefrontal cortex as an impulsivity inhibitor. If you suffered damage in that area or had low activation of it, this would reduce your ability to avoid mistakes and deviations, worsen your ability to organize and pay attention, which would make you procrastinate more. Studies with fraternal twins and identical twins have shown that procrastination and impulsivity are moderately hereditary. That’s not news. About 50 percent of our characteristics are inherited. But hereditary is not synonymous with fixed or immutable. To say that something is hereditary is the same as to say that it came configured in a certain way. We came into the world with a propensity for certain types of behaviors, activities, and ease in some tasks, and more difficulty in others. But studies also demonstrate that we have good flexibility if we work on our behaviors in the right way.
In the cognitive part, non-adaptive perfectionism has been associated with procrastinating behavior. Perfectionists are divided into 2 groups, according to science. The group of adaptive, those who have high standards, but do not pathologically demand themselves, that is, seek a high standard, but know how to accept inferior performances and do not punish themselves if they are not able to perform as it was in the imagination, and the perfectionists non-adaptive, which in addition to demanding high standards of performance, carry greater self-demand and guilt if they fail to achieve what they intended. While one passes the test with an 8 and is happy, the other passes with 9 and thinks he is a loser because he didn’t get 10.
One study revealed that the procrastinator is less oriented to the future because of a fatalistic and hopeless attitude towards life. A fatalistic attitude would be that you think that you will never be able to do something, or that a certain activity will always be as difficult as it was in the beginning. But it’s not all bad news. If you learn to look at your procrastination more gently, it tends to decrease. In addition, it naturally decreases with age.
So what good are the lists? Isn’t the problem a little more complex?
Most of these empty strategy tips are, in themselves, boring, complex, and strange tasks. Keep notes of the things you have to do, manage productivity spreadsheets, download time management applications. So after all, do you need to make the process even more complex? In the case of my patient, she watched videos on youtube, and then and she procrastinated to do even the procrastination list.
So in this video, we learned that procrastination is a serious matter and that if we want, we can learn to deal with it, as long as we know what is involved in the problem. In the case of procrastination, we should not see everything as one. The brain works based on two systems: faster and more emotional, and another that is slower and more cognitive. We also saw that impulsivity and perfectionism are closely linked to procrastinating behavior, especially non-adaptive perfectionism, which has high-performance standards and also high internal requirements. But we saw that we can deal with procrastination, learning strategies that we will work on in the next videos. In addition, we know that we have improved over time.
Anticipation: In the next videos I will talk about the 6 types of procrastination, the 5 causes, and the 12 solutions that I found in the scientific literature and my professional experience. Activate notifications, subscribe to the channel to find out when we release a new video.
Now that I want you to write in the comments what you procrastinated reading this text. Clean your head and leave Medium and go do this thing that you needed to do today and haven’t done yet.
I’m Jean, and we’ll see you on the next content.